Studio O’s Liz Ogbu Explains Why Design Equals Dignity

Liz Ogbu is the founder and principal of the design consultancy Studio O, a multidisciplinary design and innovation firm. She spoke with Doreen Lorenzo for Fast Company where she described the importance of working at a community level when designing for social impact.

Ogbu has always looked at the intersection of urban economics and sociology throughout her studies and work. This interest led her to IDEO where she was able to take on international projects and develop a deeper understanding of human-centered design as a process. After getting to play in so many different sandboxes, Ogbu realized starting her own firm would be the best way to maintain that same variety in her work. That’s when she created Studio O, and while there’s no specific blueprint for the firm, she explained how it operates in the space of experimentation with clients who are willing to take risks and do something truly different.

One memorable experience for Ogbu occurred when she was working with Public Architecture on a prototype informal hiring site shelter called the Day Labor Station. After gaining a great deal of attention, she was asked to present the project to the National Day Labor Organizing Network where she received a standing ovation. Ogbu stated “I often say design equals dignity. And in this moment, it was like me and my team saying that we believe you are deserving of dignity. We see that for you and we honor the work that you do. The applause wasn’t about the greatness of the project; it was a “thank you for seeing us.”

To Ogbu, design is an intentional creative manifestation, but in her work she sees her role as a designer as a way to help shape the spaces that enable people to live their best stories in a society that may not value those individual stories. Ogbu explained that despite the work to bring good, there’s often not enough space left for the pain that exists. Her projects aren’t just about the delivery of social impact, but the delivery of healing to communities.

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